Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Non-nutritive sweeteners and blood sugar

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I’m starting to think that the sharing of research results is like the telephone game. Researchers publish their articles in journals, slightly (or more so) misleading press releases are issued, news articles are published, these are then shared via social media. Frequently, by the time the information has filtered through these channels, you’re left with a much different message than the original study provided.

I recently read this article that stated “artificial sweeteners affect metabolism and insulin levels”. Now, if you go back to the original journal article, you’ll see that this is quite misleading. The authors found that sucralose (not all non-nutritive or “artificial” sweeteners) had an impact on blood sugar levels and blood insulin levels following a glucose challenge.

Seventeen participants who were not regular consumers of non-nutritive beverages, did not have diabetes, and were classified as obese were given a glucose tolerance test following the consumption of water on one occasion and sucralose sweetened water on another. Increased levels of blood sugar and insulin were observed following the glucose challenge given after the sucralose consumption. However, the blood glucose levels were not all that different (4.2 + 0.2 and 4.8 + 0.3 mmol/L). The insulin levels were about 20% higher following the ingestion of sucralose. 

Other things that I would like to note about this study: there were only 17 participants. This is quite a small sample size (although slightly better than the ones Dr Oz was basing his recommendation to consume vinegar to prevent diabetes) which means that we can’t be certain that the results seen were all that meaningful. There is power in numbers and to be sure that a treatment is truly having the effect you’re observing you need lots of participants. In addition, these participants were not regular consumers of sucralose. Perhaps a different result would have been obtained had they tested individuals who regularly consume sucralose sweetened products. Finally, the study only included obese individuals (the average BMI was 42.3). Would the results be the same for healthy or overweight individuals? What would the results be had tests been done on participants who had type 2 diabetes?

Yes, it’s interesting that sucralose may have an effect on blood sugar but this study is not definitive and it’s definitely not reasonable to extrapolate the results to include all non-nutritive sweeteners.


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Aspartame in milk: sweet or bitter drink to swallow?

By now you’ve probably heard about the dairy industry in the US petitioning the FDA to allow them to use artificial (or non-nutritive) sweeteners in flavoured milks. The current legislation will not allow artificially sweetened beverages to be called milk. The dairy industry feels that milk is falling victim to low-cal beverages and in order to remain popular with school children believes that they need to change the added sugar to a low or no-calorie option.

A part of me think “good” we don’t need sugar sweetened milk. We consume far too much sugar as a society anyway. Another part of me is concerned about the dairy industry’s desire to not make the non-nutritive sweetener visible of the front of the label. However, presumably, the ingredients would have to be listed as usual on the packaging. It’s not like the change in sweetener would be hidden from the consumer.

Another part of me thinks that none of these beverages should be available in schools anyway. School kids shouldn’t be given milk sweetened with sugar or non-nutritive sweetener. They also shouldn’t be sold pop, sports drinks, or even juice. Why do we need to teach our kids that beverages can only be enjoyed if they’re sweet?

I think that making milk sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners is actually a pretty great idea for adults to choose at the grocery store. Yes, personally, I’m not a fan of these sweeteners, but I think that it would be a better option than diet pop for many people. I don’t think that any flavoured milks should be being pushed on children at school.


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Are artificial sweeteners even better than the real thing?

Myth 31: Artificial sweeteners have too many chemicals to be healthy.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“Artificial sweeteners can be part of healthy eating. Health Canada approves all sweeteners for safety before they can be sold in Canada. health Canada also develops strict guidelines for how food producers can use a sweetener, as well as advice on how much is safe to eat each day. Artificial sweeteners add a sweet taste while limiting calories and can be enjoyed in moderation, as part of a healthy diet.”
What I say:
Oh boy, this is a contentious one. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to address it or not. Putting aside the obvious fact that everything is composed of chemical compounds, yep, you and all the food you eat… I know that, to-date, studies have shown that these artificial sweeteners are safe to consume. However, I’m still inclined to suggest having a little bit of a natural sweetener rather than a manufactured sweetener. We are the guinea pigs in the long-term study of the effects of non-nutritive artificial sweeteners. I also think that use of these artificial sweeteners may lead to over consumption. Just like when we took fat out of snack foods and then found out that people ended up actually eating more calories from sugar. But I’m just one of those people who thinks “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”. I used to eat foods sweetened with these non-nutritive sweeteners but I found that I became sensitized to the taste. Now, I find that I can’t enjoy yoghurt and cereals that contain them. Instead, I have plain yoghurt mixed with thawed frozen berries (fresh local berries in the summer) and cereal with no added sugar. That’s my personal preference. If you enjoy artificially sweetened foods I can’t give you a legitimate scientific reason not to continue to do so. However, I personally feel that you are better to have a small amount of real caloric sweetener (e.g. maple syrup, honey, or sugar) to satisfy your sweet tooth and try to choose more foods that don’t contain any form of sweetener.